Before going deeper on it we need to describe what we are meaning by « Non-destructive Workflow ».
Basically this term define a way to work that give us the ability to modify a lot a things without destroying everything so with no need to start from scratch everytime.
There are differents methods that give us this ability and we are actually getting more and more tools to work this way with the procedural tools from softwares like Substance Designer for Texuring or Houdini for modeling ect ect but procuderal technic isn’t the only one.
For example, let’s say you are working on an illustration with Photoshop. You could do all your digital painting with only one layer but you could also use many layers to split your image in several part (foreground, background, grey value, color value or whatever). If you use only one layer and need to modify something you will probably destroy a lot of you work comparing if you did your painting in many layers right? So, most of you are already using « non-destructive workflow » at least sometimes.
I guess with this little introduction above you already know why but let’s be clearer.
So the main purpose of this workflow is to be able to make iterations of our work without needed to start from scratch. Most of the time you won’t get the best result on your first try when you make a new piece or even if you are satisfy with it, your lead or client maybe won’t be agreed and so you need to make some change. Since you already spend some times for your first try you need to go faster for the next one and non-destructive workflow will help you a lot for that.
Another reason to work this way is to maintain a regularity to all your pieces. Since this workflow require to use technics and methods you will need to work in a specific way and because it’s specific you should get a kind of personal identity and you’ll get consistency.
This things isn’t only true for you but also for your coworkers, it could be a kind a procedure path for the all team.
If you just work on a part of a full project, your collegue will be able to understand what you have done and to modify things if needed.
Reading me till here you could think that you need to use this workflow everytime but actually that’s not true.
That’s the perfect workflow if the project and the budget are big enough but what if it’s a one shot project and you just have a couple days to work on it?
In this case you can only use this workflow if the tools or methods are already made but if you need to think too much on it you are already out of the deadline probably.
Thinking about method or even building tools cost a lot of time and as we say « time is money » if you don’t have both you can’t use this workflow.
What about your personal work so?
Hum… I would say you should try to use this workflow if you can and if that’s your only opportunities to spend time on it. Basically if you are used to think in this way you don’t need to use it and you can just make things working, it will definitely be more efficient. However, if you only work in a straight way you won’t learn or you will loose your « non-destructuve » skills with time so you should practice it times to times.
If you want to see me using non-destructive method on ZBrush, there is a video for it below.